Railroad Station, Salem, Mass

The railroad station at the corner of Washington and Norman Streets in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Salem was a prosperous seaport throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, with a fleet of sailing ships that brought goods to the city from around the world. Given its location on the north shore of Massachusetts, it was heavily dependent on the sea for its commerce, but in 1838 the first railroad line was opened to Salem, connecting the city to East Boston by way of the 13-mile-long Eastern Railroad. The line initially ended here in Salem, at an earlier station on this site, but in 1839 it was extended north to Ipswich, and then to the New Hampshire state line the following year.

The 1838 railroad station was built at the southern end of downtown Salem, meaning that the extension of the line would have to pass directly through the center of the city. In order to accomplish this, the railroad dug a 718-foot tunnel directly underneath Washington Street, allowing trains to pass through without disrupting downtown Salem. The incline for the tunnel began immediately north of the station, just out of view to the left of this scene, and it re-emerged just north of present-day Federal Street. The 1917 book The Essex Railroad, by Francis B. C. Bradlee, provides a description of the 1839 construction of the tunnel:

In order to build it the old Court House, together with stores and other buildings standing south of Essex street, were demolished. Washington street was laid open throughout its entire length and a wide ditch was dug, much trouble being experienced from the sandy nature of the soil. Residents on the side of the street boarded up their house fronts and moved away for some weeks. The sidewalks were piled with gravel. A stone arch was built in the open ditch, and when this was finished the gravel was back-filled as far as possible and the surface restored. Three air holes surrounded with iron railings came up from the tunnel through the street for ventilation, but when the locomotives began to burn coal they were done away with. All this work was done on the most elaborate plans and models, it being considered one of the largest pieces of granite work ever undertaken up to that time in New England.

The original railroad station was used until 1847, when it was replaced by the one in the 1910 photo. It was designed by prominent architect Gridley J. F. Bryant, with a castle-like appearance that included two large crenellated towers on the north side of the building, as seen here. Trains passed directly through the building, and under a granite arch between the towers that resembled a medieval city gate. The interior originally included three tracks, and the upper level of the station housed the offices for the Eastern Railroad, including those of the president and the superintendent.

The station was badly damaged by an April 7, 1882 fire that started when a can of flares exploded in one of the baggage rooms. The wooded portions of the building were destroyed, but the granite exterior survived, and the rest of the station was soon rebuilt around it. Then, in 1884, the Eastern Railroad was acquired by its competitor, the Boston and Maine Railroad, and the station became part of a large railroad network that extended across northern New England. The first photo, taken around 1910, shows the a side view of the front of the building, with the original granite towers dominating the scene. In the lower left, a locomotive emerges from the station, while railroad flagmen – barely visible in front of the train – warn pedestrians and vehicles on the street.

In 1914, much of the area immediately to the south of the station was destroyed in a catastrophic fire that burned over a thousand buildings. The station itself survived, though, and remained in use for more than a century after its completion. However, it was demolished in 1954 in order to extend the tunnel south to its current entrance at Mill Street. By this point, intercity passenger rail was in a serious decline, due to competition from automobiles and commercial airlines, and the replacement station was a much smaller building on Margin Street, just south of the new tunnel entrance.

The 1950s station was used until 1987, when the present-day station was opened at the northern end of the tunnel, at the corner of Washington and Bridge Streets. Salem is no longer served by long-distance passenger trains, but it is now located on the MBTA Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line, and trains still pass through the tunnel that runs underneath Washington Street. On the surface, though, there are no recognizable landmarks from the first photo, and today the scene is a busy intersection at the corner of Washington and Norman Streets. The former site of the historic station is now Riley Plaza, a small park that was dedicated in 1959 and named in honor of John P. Riley (1877-1950), a Salem resident who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in the Spanish-American War.

Classical and High School, Salem, Mass

The Classical and High School at 5 Broad Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows two historic school buildings on Broad Street in Salem. The older of the two is the Oliver Primary School in the distance on the left, which is discussed in more detail in the previous post. It was completed in 1819, and in the early years it served as the home of the Latin Grammar School and the English High School. These two schools were later renamed the Fisk and the Bowditch Schools, respectively, and in 1854 they were merged into the Bowditch School.

At the time, the Bowditch School taught boys, with a separate Saltonstall School for girls. However, these two schools were merged in 1856 to form the Salem Classical and High School, and moved into a newly-completed building on the right side of the scene. This ornate, Italianate-style school was designed by local architect Enoch Fuller, and was dedicated on March 18, 1856. The ceremonies included an address by former principal Henry K. Oliver, who would go on to have a successful political career as the state treasurer, and as mayor of Lawrence and Salem, among other state and local offices.

By 1868, the school had a total enrollment of 173, including 85 boys and 88 girls. However, there was evidently a significant amount of turnover throughout the school year, because the high school had, on average, only 117 students enrolled at any given time. This was just under half of the building’s total capacity at the time, which was listed at 238 seats during that year’s annual school report. The first photo was probably taken around this time, and it shows a group of children standing on the sidewalk, apparently posing for the camera. Somebody of them look fairly young, and may have attended school at the old high school building in the distance, which had been converted into a primary school by this point.

Today, neither of these two buildings are still used as schools, but both are still standing without any major exterior changes. The Oliver Primary School in the distance has lost its original balustrade along the roof, and the old doorway has become a window, but otherwise it retains much of its original early 19t century appearance. The newer building is also still standing as an excellent example of an Italianate-style high school building, and it is now occupied by the Salem Council on Aging. Both buildings, along with the surrounding neighborhood, are now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Oliver Primary School, Salem, Mass

The Oliver Primary School at 3 Broad Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This is the oldest surviving school building in Salem, and it stands alongside two other historic school buildings that all date back to the early or mid-19th century. It was completed in 1819 at a cost of $10,000, with a Federal-style design that was the work of master builder John Milligan. Originally, it housed the Latin Grammar School and the English High School, and at the time the building consisted of just this rectangular section along Broad Street. Among its early teachers was Henry K. Oliver, the building’s future namesake, who would go on to become a prominent local and state politician, including serving as state treasurer and as mayor of both Lawrence and Salem.

In 1842, the building was expanded with an addition to the south, on the side opposite of this view. Then, in the mid-1850s, it was joined by two other school buildings. Just beyond the school, on the left side of both photos, is the Salem Normal School, which was built in 1854 as the original home of the present-day Salem State University, and was later expanded in 1870-1871. Just out of view to the right, on the other side of the 1819 school building, is the Classical and High School. This was completed in 1856, replacing the older building as the city’s high school.

The former Latin Grammar School and English High School was converted into the Broad Street Primary School, and later became the Oliver Primary School. It underwent interior renovations in the late 1860s, and was described in the city’s 1869 school committee report:

On Broad street, between Normal and High School houses; now undergoing changes to make four graded rooms; height of story, 13 ft.; dimensions of building, 62 x 33 ft.; will accommodate 220 pupils; the lot of the land contains 14,844 ft.; value of land and building, $14,000; erected in 1818.

The building was used as a school for many more years, until sometime in the early 20th century. However, both it and the former Normal School on the left have since been converted into residential use, with 14 units in the Oliver Primary School and 12 condominiums in the Normal School. The exteriors have remained well-preserved, though, and the Oliver Primary School survives as a good example of early 19th century Federal architecture. Both buildings, along with the neighboring Classical and High School, are now part of the Chestnut Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

South Church, Salem, Mass

South Church, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The South Church was established in 1774, following a split within the Third Congregational Church, which later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church. For the first 30 years of its existence, the South Church met in a different building on Cambridge Street, but in 1804 construction began on a new church building here at the corner of Cambridge and Chestnut Streets. It was the work of prominent local architect Samuel McIntire, with an elegant Federal-style design that included elements such as pilasters on the front of the building, a Palladian window, a pediment above the front entrance, and an ornate, multi-stage steeple that rose from the top of the pediment.

The steeple in the first photo was actually the second one on the building. The first was destroyed in an apparent hurricane on September 11, 1804, in an event that was described by diarist William Bentley in his entry for that day:

The high wind brought down the unfinished Steeple of the new Meeting House lately raised in Cambridge Street, about five o’clock this afternoon. The whole work of the Steeple is distroyed. The spindle struck on the opposite side of the street, after falling 170 feet, about 30 feet from the building. The mortices had no pins through the long braces which went from the frame of the dome to the standard post & this occasioned the loss of the Steeple. The spindle broke, the vane and ball were much bruised & the whole a complete wreck.

However, the steeple was soon rebuilt to the height of 166 feet, and the building was dedicated on January 1, 1805, in a ceremony that was also described in Bentley’s diary:

This day was appropriated for the dedication of the New South Meeting House at Salem. A large Band of music was provided & Mr. [Samuel] Holyoke took the direction. A double bass, 5 bass viols, 5 violins, 2 Clarionets, 2 Bassoons & 5 german flutes composed the Instrumental music. About 80 singers, the greater part males, composed the vocal music. It could not have the refinement of taste as few of the singers were ever together before & most were instructed by different masters. But in these circumstances it was good. The House was crowded & not half that went were accomodated. Mr. Hopkins, the Pastor, performed the religious service of prayer & preaching, & a Mr. Emerson of Beverly made the last prayer. The music had an excellent dinner provided for them at the Ship [tavern] & the 16 ministers present dined in elegant taste at Hon. Jno. Norris Esqr. the principal character in the list of the Proprietors of the new Meeting House.

Later in the entry, Bentley also commented on the building’s architecture, writing:

The Steeple is the noblest in Town. Upon a lofty tower it rises upon reduced Octagons & hexagons, till it terminates in a slender cone. It is decorated handsomely. The roof is supported above, the arch is lofty, the pulpit rich, but nothing singular in the disposition of the House. It is the best structure for Public Worship ever raised in Salem.

The pastor at the time was Daniel Hopkins (1734-1814), a native of Waterbury, Connecticut who had graduated from Yale in 1758. He served as a delegate to the Third Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1775, shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution, and he later served on the Governor’s Council from 1776 to 1778. He was ordained as the pastor of the South Church in 1778, and remained with the church until his death in 1814. However, he was suffering from poor health by the time this church building was completed, and in April 1805 he was joined by a second pastor, Brown Emerson (1778-1872), who had graduated from Dartmouth three years earlier.

In 1806, Brown Emerson married Reverend Hopkins’s daughter Mary, and went on to serve the church for many years after Hopkins’s death. Like Hopkins, he was also assisted by a younger pastor in his later years, but he remained with the church for a total of nearly 70 years, until his death in 1872 at the age of 94. Although the first photo is undated, it was probably taken sometime around the late 1860s or early 1870s, so it likely shows the church as it appeared around the time that Reverend Emerson died.

The historic church building stood here for nearly a century, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1903. It was a significant loss to the neighborhood, and was replaced by a stone, Gothic-style church that bore no resemblance to the old church, and it stood out as an anomaly among the otherwise Federal-style buildings on Chestnut Street. The new building was only used by the South Church for 20 years, until a 1924 merger with the Tabernacle Congregational Church. The building was subsequently used by a different church, but it was ultimately demolished in 1950, and the site was converted into a park.

Today, the former site of the church is still a park, as seen in the 2017 photo. However, aside from the loss of the church, the rest of the neighborhood has not undergone any significant changes since the area was first developed in the early 19th century. Just across the street from here is Hamilton Hall, which was built only a couple years after the original church building, and the homes in the first photo are also still standing, including the c.1808 Robinson-Little House on the left side of the scene. All of these buildings are now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Hamilton Hall, Salem, Mass

Hamilton Hall, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, on December 24, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2017:

More than two centuries before he became the subject of a popular Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton was an icon of the Federalist Party, a short-lived but highly influential political party in the formative years of the country. The Federalists were well on their way to political irrelevance at the national level by the start of the 19th century, but they would remain dominant here in New England for a couple more decades, including here in Salem.

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, and many of its most important homes and public buildings date to this period, including Hamilton Hall, which was constructed between 1805 and 1807. It was built as an assembly hall for the town’s wealthy Federalist families, and was named for Alexander Hamilton, who had been killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The building was designed by the prolific Salem architect Samuel McIntire, who also built mansions for many of the towns’s leading merchants, and it is regarded as one of the finest Federal-style public buildings in the country.

It was constructed at a cost of $22,000, and it originally housed two stores on the ground floor, with a ballroom on the second floor. The exterior incorporates many elements of Federal-style architecture, including symmetrical facades, Palladian windows, and a pediment on the gable end of the building. The Chestnut Street side of the building, on the left side of the photo, also features rectangular panels above the windows, with an eagle carved into the central panel.

Early tenants of the ground-floor storefronts included grocer John Gray on the left side, and caterer John Remond on the right. A free black immigrant from Curacao, Remond lived in an apartment here in the building, and worked as a caretaker while also providing the refreshments for events that were held here. He was regarded as Salem’s premier restauranteur throughout the first half of the 19th century, and he catered many events here, including receptions for visiting dignitaries such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who attended a dinner here during his 1824 tour of America.

Over the years, Hamilton Hall was used for a wide variety of social events, including lectures, dances, and dinners. It saw some changes during this time, including the addition of the portico on the Cambridge Street side in 1845, but overall the exterior has retained its original early 19th century appearance. By the time the first photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1940, it was recognized as historically significant, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Then, in 1970, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and three years later it also became a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District.

Today, Hamilton Hall has hardly seen any changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. The eagle panel on the left side was removed for preservation in 2014, and was replaced by a replica that is seen in the second photo. Otherwise, the exterior appearance is the same, and the interior is also largely unchanged. More than two centuries after its completion, it continues to be used as a public hall for lectures, weddings, and other events. The surrounding neighborhood has also been well-preserved, and it is one of many early 19th century buildings that are still standing in this part of Salem.

Ropes Mansion, Salem, Mass

The Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built sometime in the late 1720s, and was originally the home of Samuel Barnard (1684-1762), a merchant who had moved to Salem from Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was a survivor of the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, and he lived there until after the death of his wife Mary and their infant son Samuel in 1720. He subsequently came to Salem and married his second wife Rachel, the widow of his cousin Thomas Barnard. Here, he propspered as a merchant and became a wealthy man, as demonstrated by the elegant Georgian mansion that he built within a few years of his arrival.

Rachel died in 1743, and he later remarried to Elizabeth Williams, who died in 1753. Three years later he married his fourth wife, Catharine Dexter, and they lived here until his death in 1762. With no surviving heirs from any of his marriages, Barnard left a considerable amount of money for charitable purposes, including a hundred pounds for the relief of the poor in Salem and Deerfield, and two hundred pounds to purchase silver for the churches in Salem, Deerfield, and Greenfield. Among these gifts was a silver tankard, now in the collections of Historic Deerfield, that was made by the young Boston silversmith Paul Revere.

Barnard left his property in Salem, including this house, to his nephew, Joseph Barnard. In 1768, Joseph sold the house to Judge Nathaniel Ropes (1726-1774) for eight hundred pounds. At the time, the property extended beyond the house as far as the banks of the North River, since Federal Street has not yet been opened a block to the north of here. Ropes was a 1745 graduate of Harvard, and began his career as a lawyer. He represented Salem in the colonial legislature in 1760 and 1761, and served on the Governor’s Council from 1762 to 1768. He was also a judge on the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and a judge of probate, and in 1772 Governor Thomas Hutchinson appointed him as a justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony.

Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the court was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Although appointed by the royal governor of the colony, the judges were, until this point, paid by the elected representatives of the General Court. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. However, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, and in 1773 the lower house of the General Court gave a clear warning to Ropes and the other Superior Court justices, with a resolution stating that:

any one of them who shall accept of, and depend upon the Pleasure of the Crown for his Support, independent of the Grants and Acts of the General Assembly, will discover to the World that he has not a due Sense of the Importance of an Impartial Administration of Justice, that he is an enemy to the Constitution, and has it in his Heart to promote the Establishment of an arbitrary Government in the Province.

Nathaniel Ropes promised that he would not accept the royal salary, and he was even acquainted with prominent patriots such as John Adams, who visited this house on November 9, 1771. The future president commented on the visit in his diary, writing:

Dined this Day, spent the Afternoon, and drank Tea at Judge Ropes’s, with Judges Lynde, Oliver and Hutchinson, Sewal, Putnam, and Winthrop. Mrs. Ropes is a fine Woman — very pretty, and genteel. Our Judge Oliver is the best bred Gentleman of all the judges, by far. There is something in every one of the others indecent and disagreable, at Times in Company-affected Witticisms, unpolished fleers, coarse Jests, and sometimes rough, rude Attacks, but these you dont see escape Judge Oliver.

This meeting here at the Ropes house included some of the most prominent jurists in the colony at the time. Along with Ropes himself, both Benjamin Lynde, Jr. and Peter Oliver were justices of the Superior Court, and the Hutchinson mentioned in the entry is likely Foster Hutchinson, who also served on the court. Lynde was the chief justice at the time, but the following year he was succeeded by Oliver, who was later forced out once the Revolution started. Coincidentally, Oliver’s replacement as chief justice was none other than John Adams himself, although he never actually sat on the court and eventually resigned after holding the position from 1775 to 1776.

In the meantime, as the colony moved closer to revolution, Ropes faced problems right here at his home in Salem. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Ropes was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death.

Writing in his diary a little over a week later, John Adams made no mention of a specific mob attacking the house, but did comment on how the turmoil in the colony had affected Ropes’s health:

Pynchon says judge Ropes was exceedingly agitated all the time of his last Sickness — about the public Affairs, in general, and those of the Superiour Court in particular — afraid his Renunciation would be attributed to Timidity — afraid to refuse to renounce — worried about the Opinion of the Bar, &c.

Nathaniel Ropes was only 47 when he died, leaving his widow Priscilla and six young children, whose ages ranged from one to 14. She and the children moved to nearby Danvers for some time, but after a few years their oldest son, Nathaniel Ropes III (1759-1806), returned to this house and began a merchant business here in Salem. He and his wife Sarah had three children who survived infancy, including a son, Nathaniel Ropes IV (1793-1885), and two daughters, Sarah (Sally) and Abigail. The elder Sarah died in 1801, at the age of 36, and two years later Nathaniel remarried, to Elizabeth Cleveland. However, he died in 1806, at the same age as his father’s untimely death.

Nathaniel Ropes IV would later move to Cincinnati, where he lived for the rest of his life, but his sisters Sally and Abigail continued to live here in the family home. In 1817, Sally married Joseph Orne, whose father, William Orne, was a prosperous merchant. They had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1818, but Joseph died later in the year, at the age of just 22. Like so many other members of the family, Abigail Ropes also died relatively young in 1839, and Elizabeth died three years later, at the age of 24.

After having outlived her husband, daughter, parents, and sister, the middle-aged Sally remained here in this house for many years. The 1850 census shows her living here alone except for two women who were presumably servants. By the 1870 census, she was 75 years old and employed a live-in nurse and a servant, and she also lived here with her nephew, 37-year-old Nathaniel Ropes V. Although born in Ohio, Nathaniel had later returned to his father’s childhood home here in Salem, and continued living in the house after Sally’s death in 1876.

Nathaniel died in 1893, and the house was then acquired by his sisters. The following year, it underwent renovations. It was moved back from the street, and was modernized with conveniences such as central heat, electricity, and plumbing. A large wing was also built in the rear of the house, the fence was added to the front yard, and some of the interior was also renovated. The three sisters went on to live here for the rest of their lives. The oldest, Sarah, died in 1899, followed by Mary in 1903 and Eliza in 1907. Unmarried, and with no surviving nieces or nephews, Mary and Eliza were the last of their branch of the Ropes family, and after their deaths they left the property to the Essex Institute, as a memorial to their family.

The first photo was taken a few decades later, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. The house has not seen any significant changes since then, and it is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which acquired the property following the 1992 merger between the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute. A year later, the exterior of the house appeared in the Disney film Hocus Pocus, where it served as the home of one of the main characters. Today, the house is still open to the public as a museum, and is one of many historic properties owned by the Peabody Essex.